How to Make a Barrel Garden

   Sometimes starting a whole garden with kids can be a daunting challenge. If you start too big, they may lose interest or get burned out, and so can their parents! Why not introduce them to gardening with a small project that is fun to create and easy to maintain? A barrel garden might be just the thing. Using recycled whiskey barrels, found at your local garden center and sometimes on craigslist, you and your children can be planting in no time! Below are some easy to follow steps.

Step 1: Begin by creating a guild for your container. In permaculture, guilds are plant communities that grow in various niches and perform various functions to support the whole. For instance, fruit trees can be underplanted with comfrey, which accumulates calcium and other nutrients for the plants around it, yarrow, which attracts beneficial insects, daffodils, which repel rodents, and they can also be planted beside nurse trees, fast growing species that fix nitrogen in the soil and shelter the young tree. Once the tree is established, the nurse tree is cut back as needed for mulch, causing the roots to die back and release more nitrogen.
close-up of nitrogen fixing nodules on peanut roots
A barrel is too small for a fruit tree, although a small shrub, such as a sunshine blue blueberry, may work. Choose a variety of plants that will not only support each other, but feed your family as well. Strawberries, herbs, greens and nasturtiums are good choices. Cucumbers could climb up a trellis and a cherry tomato could scramble over the side. Even a small winter squash, such as table queen vine acorn squash, would do. Herbs are excellent guild companions, because their strong smell often masks your other vegetables from hungry pests. Snap peas are a good early spring crop that will help fix nitrogen for the next crop. Peanuts planted in early summer would enjoy the loose soil and also fix nitrogen for a fall planting of greens. Oats can also be planted in the fall as a cover crop that will winterkill and provide straw to feed the soil and mulch the strawberries. Plan a succession of mutually beneficial plantings for the whole year. 
 Step 2: Choose a color and paint your barrel. This is lots of fun for the whole neighborhood! Use exterior grade latex.

 Step 3: Not pictured, but fill the bottom third of the barrel with rotting sticks and small limbs. This is a strategy used in hugelkultur and helps keep the soil from drying out. The rotting wood acts like a sponge that holds water even in dry weather. Make sure to water these well.

Step 4: Fill the remainder of your barrel with garden soil.
Step 5: Carefully add transplants or plant seeds.

Step 6: Water well and enjoy! As you can see, this barrel garden is set close to the rabbit hutch, where it can easily be fertilized by rabbit droppings (a natural, slow release fertilizer that is safe to use directly on gardens). And the rabbits can be treated with occasional veggie tops and clippings. The more beneficial relationships you can design into your garden, the healthier the soil will be, and everyone else in the ecosystem as well!

Skills for Sustainability

We are fans of project based learning here. What could be better than equipping our children with life skills in a way that stimulates many senses and builds on their natural play instincts? Extra points if you connect a project to a hypothetical situation they are likely to experience.

That's all just a fancy way of saying we grownups are are trying to manipulate nicely. Sigh. 

This activity has all of the above, only the situation isn't hypothetical. It's real. And the goal is not the acquisition of an abstract ability, that is merely the side effect. Here the thing is the thing. We are saving seeds for the future. Future gardens, future eating, future food security and future sharing.

And keep in mind, that while these sentiments may thrill the soul of any holistically minded pedagogue, if it's not fun, or a positive experience, it won't stick. So keep education voluntary as much as possible. You can pick and choose from the steps below according to age, interest and readiness.

unshelled peas or beans (we grew Big Red Ripper southern peas)
paper or notebooks 

Step 1- Choose the 3 best pods you can and trace them onto some paper. Number these 1-3.

Step 2- Measure the lengths of each pod and record them on the paper beside the correct traced shape. 

Step 3- Open the pods one at a time and count the seeds inside. Write the number of each one beside their corresponding shape.

Step 4- Compare results and figure averages. You can do averages for each person and then figure an average from everyone's results.

Step 5- Choose the very best looking seeds, spread them to dry completely, then place in airtight, labeled containers.

Don't forget to shell some for dinner! Yum!

Insects in the Garden Workshop!

Black Soldier Fly

Come to the Hub City Farmer's Market again on July 27th to hear master gardener, naturalist and urban farmer Eliza Lord share about insects in the garden's ecology. We'll get to look at some cool specimens, learn to identify pollinators, pests and their predators, and put together nature journals to take home!

Three Sisters Workshop at the Market

   On June 15 we led a workshop at the Hub City Farmer's Market about the Native American companion planting method called the Three Sisters. The three sisters are corn, beans and squash. Sturdy cornstalks of the kind used for grain provide a trellis for pole beans to climb, the beans help fix nitrogen in the soil and the squash grows along the ground, helping to suppress weeds and shade the soil so it does not dry out.

   For the first activity of the day, we acted out the legend of the Three Sisters. There are many versions, but ours was based on this one. Next, we planted soaked seeds in a barrel that belongs to Miriam. She will keep the barrel in her garden and we will take pictures to share as the plants grow. And all throughout the morning, kids could come and put together seed kits decorated with stickers.
   Each seed kit contained heirloom seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. The seed varieties were Pungo Creek Butcher corn, Selma Zesta pole beans and Seminole pumpkins. The kits also included instruction sheets printed from Kids Gardening.

   Stay tuned for the announcement of our next market workshop and the special guest who will be joining us!

Hub City Farmer's Market, Here We Come!

As part of our ongoing goal to help kids learn to raise and grow their own food, we will be coordinating a series of workshops each month at the Hub City Farmer's Market. Some of our instructors will even be market vendors! Each project will have a take home activity with instructions and resources so kids can continue what they've learned at home with their parents.
some of our market kids!
We are conducting these workshops free of charge, but we sure could use your help to defray the cost of materials. Below is a list of supplies we will need. Some can be saved from the recycling bin. Others may be something you have that you are not using. In any case, thank you in advance for any help you can give. And please share with your friends in the Spartanburg area! :)

kid sized watering cans
printer paper
garden themed stickers, stamps and ink pads
snack sized resealable bags
gallon resealable bags
2 large bags organic potting soil
construction paper
100 small spray bottles
colored tape
100 small peat pots
peat moss
50 quart glass jars
dark potting soil
leaf compost
50 sheets black construction paper
clear tape
gel pens for decorating (optional)

"Hare" Raising Fun

Our first Friday evening family potluck workshop was a great success! We had 14 kids and 7 adults altogether, and lifetime rabbit keeper, Mr. Pat Cox, gave a wonderful, interactive presentation. Here is a clip from the class:

Wind Stirring Machine

I don't know how useful it is, but it was fun to make. We originally wanted something to churn cream into butter, but this machine is obviously not fast enough. Maybe it can be used to mix something for the garden, like a biodynamic prep. At least it's a start!